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Ayane Satomi
Ayane Satomi

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GitHub launched their own Web IDE - does that mean Atom is dead?

GitHub just announced Codespaces, their own hosted Cloud IDE based on the venerable Visual Studio Code, and frankly is also their version of Visual Studio Codespaces. Codespaces is basically a one-click IDE that contains your dependencies and just gets you started.

But there's an issue, remember Atom? Yes, that was GitHub's baby and the reason why Electron existed, the reason why Visual Studio Code was possible. And they were competitors once. But with GitHub embracing Visual Studio Code instead, does that mean its putting its own editor in the past?

Let's go further back

Cloud IDEs were the hype for a while now, and of course a lot of IDEs cashed in, such as Gitpod, CodeAnywhere, AWS Cloud 9, to name a few. Of course, VSCode was the most flexible editor that existed, and no one in the market has ever reached the flexibility of Visual Studio Code until today.

But let's go to where Atom started. At that time it was GitHub's very own extensible editor, it had its own extension gallery based on npm, but it suffered on a lot of issues, most notably startup issues. At that time Visual Studio Code also came along, and they were fierce competitors.

In my perspective, every release of Atom added new features, but didn't bother to fix any of its issues that plagued its release. Visual Studio Code, however, had focused so much in listening to its community that it began to thrive and saw adoption, and of course, Visual Studio Code became the editor of choice of many, and Atom fell into obscurity, being only known as the project that started the Electron desktop shell.

Does it mean GitHub gave up on Atom?

Most probably. I haven't heard about Atom from GitHub for a while now, and it seems to have gone silent, and with Microsoft's acquisition, it became very clear Atom was not worth the investment to GitHub, in my perspective, it looks like Atom didn't have that much adoption, so it just went silent and pushed its own updates, but the rage is all about Visual Studio Code.

Now that Codespaces is out, and its very clear it used Visual Studio Code as its base, not Atom, and the reasoning is very simple and clear - more people use Visual Studio Code and expect this kind of flexibility if they ever want to use such a Cloud IDE. Atom, unfortunately, fell out of favor for that parameter.

The way I see it, is GitHub is offering familiarity, since people know more about VS Code than Atom, it makes sense to launch a product with a feature set that people are familiar with. Our intrepid editor however, was not even flexible or even ready to be packaged as a Cloud IDE.

Visual Studio Remote and Online - The Final Nail in the Coffin for Atom

So how did it really fell out of favor? Well, people are becoming interested in coding remotely, and Microsoft saw an opportunity, so it launched Visual Studio Remote, a set of extensions that allows you to run a minimal Visual Studio Server that interacts with your VS Code instance from the cloud. And it was good at it.

You can achieve the same from Atom, but not as an optimal experience from Visual Studio Code. And of course, as time progressed, VS Remote was a success that it was possible to launch Visual Studio Online, Microsoft's Cloud IDE based on Visual Studio Code and Visual Studio Remote. And Atom was never able to catch up with the trend.

The Future of Atom looks bleak in GitHub

The future of Atom in the new GitHub's stewardship looks very bleak, now that Codespaces is out, and it favor VS Code instead of their own homebrewn editor, it seems that GitHub no longer cares for Atom. It's more on the "grandfathered" stage. They simply don't care about the editor anymore, I've never seen any more blogs that point to Atom from GitHub, and its very likely, Atom is going to be shut down now that there's no point for them to maintain it.

But Atom is open source, so even if the developers gave up on it, someone out there can restart Atom, but as more and more editors pattern themselves to function similarly to VS Code, heck, even use a lot of standards VS Code uses to make up for what lacks from them, I don't think Atom would ever keep up.

But let's support GitHub's endeavors even if it means to kill one editor because no one is using it anymore - they are doing it for us after all, inasmuch we want them to maintain both, reality is harsh, and resources is finite. Atom will get to the chopping block inevitably so GitHub can focus on what matters most.

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